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The Coliseum

by George Gordon Byron, 1881

(Childe Harold, Canto iv. Stanzas 139–145.)

  AND here the buzz of eager nations ran,
  In murmur’d pity, or loud-roar’d applause,
  As man was slaughter’d by his fellow-man.
  And wherefore slaughter’d? wherefore, but because
  Such were the bloody Circus’ genial laws,
  And the imperial pleasure.—Wherefore not?
  What matters where we fall to fill the maws
  Of worms—on battle-plains or listed spot?
Both are but theatres where the chief actors rot.

  I see before me the Gladiator lie:
  He leans upon his hand—his manly brow
  Consents to death, but conquers agony,
  And his droop’d head sinks gradually low—
  And through his side the last drops, ebbing slow
  From the red gash, fall heavy, one by one,
  Like the first of a thunder-shower; and now
  The arena swims around him—he is gone,
Ere ceased the inhuman shout which hail’d the wretch who won.

  He heard it, but he heeded not—his eyes
  Were with his heart, and that was far away:
  He reck’d not of the life he lost nor prize,
  But where his rude hut by the Danube lay,
  There were his young barbarians all at play,
  There was their Dacian mother—he, their sire,
  Butcher’d to make a Roman holiday—
  All this rush’d with his blood—Shall he expire
And unavenged?—Arise! ye Goths, and glut your ire!

  But here, where Murder breathed her bloody steam;
  And here, where buzzing nations choked the ways,
  And roar’d or murmur’d like a mountain stream
  Dashing or winding as its torrent strays;
  Here, where the Roman millions’ blame or praise
  Was death or life, the playthings of a crowd,
  My voice sounds much—and fall the stars’ faint rays
  On the arena void-seats crush’d—walls bow’d—
And galleries, where my steps seem echoes strangely loud.

  A ruin—yet what ruin! from its mass
  Walls, palaces, half-cities, have been rear’d;
  Yet oft the enormous skeleton ye pass,
  And marvel where the spoil could have appear’d.
  Hath it indeed been plunder’d, or but clear’d?
  Alas! developed, opens the decay,
  When the colossal fabric’s form is near’d:
  It will not bear the brightness of the day,
Which streams too much on all years, man, have reft away.

  But when the rising moon begins to climb
  Its topmost arch, and gently pauses there;
  When the stars twinkle through the loops of time,
  And the low night-breeze waves along the air
  The garland forest, which the gray walls wear,
  Like laurels on the bald first Cæsar’s head;
  When the light shines serene but doth not glare,
  Then in this magic circle raise the dead:
Heroes have trod this spot—’tis on their dust ye tread.

  “While stands the Coliseum, Rome shall stand;
  When falls the Coliseum, Rome shall fall;
  And when Rome falls—the World.” From our own land
  Thus spake the pilgrims o’er this mighty wall
  In Saxon times, which we are wont to call
  Ancient; and these three mortal things are still
  On their foundations, and unalter’d all;
  Rome and her Ruin past Redemption’s skill,
The World, the same wide den—of thieves, or what ye will.

Published in Poetry of Byron

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